Skip to content Skip to navigation menu

How to change your drive belt

Abby Wingett | 28th July 2022 | 10 minutes to read

A drive belt is a vital part of your vehicle, which is responsible for a variety of different components within your vehicle's engine, from your water pump, radiator fan, alternator or even your air conditioning, depending on which vehicle you have.

Whether you are due for your next service, getting your race car ready for a race meeting, or going on a long road trip. To ensure your vehicle has the best quality, durability and reliability when it comes to your automotive parts, get into Repco to find the right replacement drive belt.

  1. What is the difference between a drive belt and a timing belt?
  2. 5 signs your drive belt needs replacing or re-tensioned
  3. Diagnosis and visual inspection of your drive belt?
  4. Choosing the right drive belt:
  5. What you will need:
  6. Step to changing your drive belt

What is the difference between a drive belt and a timing belt?

As both are classed a consumable part on your vehicle you will at stages be required to have these changed during the course of your vehicle’s life. They do however both perform very different functions and can wear at significantly different rates. Below are some of the variances and why the effective operation of each is vital to the performance of your vehicle.

Timing belt

Designed to synchronise valves, pistons, camshaft and crankshaft, a timing belt ensures the combustion cycles and compression is performing correctly within your engine. Buried behind timing covers most modern timing belts are made from a high-quality rubber with nylon reinforced cords making then resistant to wear, heat and contamination. As a timing belt is physically harder and has deeper teeth compared to your drive belt this makes them exceptionally durably and reliable, however can cause catastrophic engine damage if not replaced within their service interval.

Drive belt

Whether known as a drive belt, multi-accessory belt or serpentine belt these belts run off your crank pulley to drive engine accessories such as your water pump, alternator, power steering pump and air conditioning compressor. Designed as a ribbed or V shaped belt these are constructed of rubber composites to make them both flexible and give greater lateral stability around the pulley. As these belts are located external to the engine and within view in the engine bay mean they are resistant to heat, oil and other chemicals. Whilst not as catastrophic when worn or when it breaks your multi accessory belt is still critical to the operation of your vehicle so must be kept in good order for your vehicle to function.

5 signs your drive belt needs replacing or re-tensioned

Even though belts are made to be tough and robust, over time and due to wear and tear, your drive belts will need re-tensioning and eventual replacement. This can be caused by a variety of different reasons and should be checked if you notice any of the below symptoms.

  • Engine overheating – this can be caused by the belt not effectively turning the water pump pulley and in turn the water pump, meaning coolant isn't being circulated through the engine.
  • Strange noises – one of the most common signs that your belt needs to be replaced is if you notice loud squealing noise coming from the front of your vehicle whilst your engine is running. This could be due to various reasons and does not necessarily mean your drive belt needs replacing; however, if you notice the noise, it is best to inspect the belt and ensure it is ok visually. The noise could also be caused by slippage or misalignment of the belt.
  • Air conditioning not working – If your air conditioner isn't working this may mean the belt driving the air conditioning compressor needs attention. On some vehicles this compressor is run on a separate belt so may need inspection from beneath the vehicle if tucked further down in the engine bay.
  • Heavy steering - More modern vehicles may run an electric power steering unit yet vehicles that run a hydraulic power steering system may experience heavy steering if the belt is not working correctly. This is due to the power steering pump pulley not circulating; therefore, the pump does not circulate the power steering fluid.
  • Kilometres on your vehicle – your drive belts are meant to last up to 80,000 kilometres; however, they can last longer depending on the conditions of your vehicle. Make sure to check out your belts regularly and get a replacement if you notice any visible wear.
signs your drive belt need replacing

Diagnosis and visual inspection of your drive belt

Whilst still enabling your vehicle ancillaries to perform, belt wear can occur and provide no outward sign of imminent failure unless visually inspected. With the multi accessory belt easily located at either at the front or the side of the engine it is relatively easy to perform a close-up visual inspection on a portion of the belt to check for damage.

In a well-lit environment, you need to look for visual damage, cracking or fraying in the belt. There are also belt wear indicator tools that provide measurement of the wear on the ribs of the belt as another gauge of belt effectiveness.

Any damage or excessive wear to the belt means it needs to be replaced before causing further damage to your vehicle.

Choosing the right drive belt:

When it comes to replacing your belt, there is a vast array of belts to fit an extensive range of different cars. All vehicles have different belts, which means when it comes time for you to replace your belt, you should use these handy tips to ensure you get the right belt for your vehicle.

Bring the belt with you/ take a photo of the reference of the belt

The reference on the side of the belt is very useful if you can still read them on the belt. The reference on the side of the belt provides you with important information about crucial dimensions. This is handy for you to bring into your local Repco store so you can double-check you have the right belt, as sometimes two belts will be listed for the same vehicle.

For example: 5PK875

  • 5 is for the number of ribs the belt has.
  • PK – The 'p' stands for the metric designation, and the 'k' stands for the belts automotive SEA standards per SAE J1459
  • 875 – is for the length of the belt.
drive belt 5pk875

Use our handy Rego search function

Our vehicle registration function enables you to enter your registration and choose from a variety of brands of belt suited to your vehicle. We can also enable you to manually input the details of your vehicle to provide a suitable belt.

How to change your drive belt

how to change your drive belt

What will you need:

Step to changing your drive belt

Step 1: Safety first

Ensure your vehicle is turned off and in park mode/ in gear with your hand brake on. Place your gloves on, and you are ready to get started.

Step 2: Locate the belt, loosen tension, and remove the old belt.

Before you begin to loosen the tension of your vehicle's belt, we recommend taking a photo or drawing of the direction that the belt is on the pulleys so that when it comes time to put the belt back on, you know exactly which way it needs to go.

Loosen the belt's tension, making it super easy for the belt to come out. This is usually done off a separate pulley wheel or the alternator mount. Every vehicle is different, so you may need to check your vehicle manual to locate where you need to loosen the tension.

There are three different types of tensions depending on what is under the bonnet:

  • Hydraulic tension – Usually used in bigger engines, e.g. v6 and v8s, which helps provide extra support for a wide range of movement. This operated utilising a coil spring rather than a swing arm.
  • Automatic spring-loaded tension – on most modern vehicles, making it easier to change your vehicle's belts. This is a mechanism that has a spring enclosed within the tension assembly with a swing arm to move and keep the belt in place.
  • Manual belt tension – this is found in vehicles that use a straightforward timing belt system. Your belt can stretch over time, and it may need re-tensioning in between services.

To loosen the tension, you will need a ring spanner or socket and a wrench on the pulley to loosen the tension. You will need to remove the tension enough to ensure you are able to remove the old belt.

Step 3: Examine the drive system within the engine bay

Whilst the belt has been removed it is important to check the pulley’s to ensure there is no damage to the drive belt pulleys look for cracks, signs the pulleys are worn, excessive pulley wobble indicating the bearing are worn within the pulley and need replacing. Check carefully ensuring they are in good condition before continuing with replacing your drive belt. You may even want to use a torch to see better within the engine bay.

Step 4: Installing the new drive belt

Once you have checked the drive system and replaced any worn parts, you can get ready to install your new drive belt.

Before installing the new drive belt, compare the new belt with the old one, ensuring you have purchased the correct one for your vehicle. Remember, your old belt may have stretched, so your new belt might not be the exact same but be sure to compare; they should be similar.

Following the image or drawing, you did at the start before you removed your belt, reinstall the new belt. Make sure you carefully align the belt ribs with the pulley grooves. Check each pulley, even the ones out of site, to ensure they are aligned properly; they must align properly, or you can cause severe damage to your belt, which can cause other issues to your engine.

Step 5: Tension the belt up

For a manual tension system, you will need to put tension on the belts using a spanner or ratchet and socket; once tight, use a tension wrench to ensure you have put the correct tension on the belt for your vehicle (check the vehicle manual for the correct specifications).

Please note that not all vehicles need to be manually tensioned; make sure to use your vehicle's manual before tensioning anything. Automatic spring-loaded tensioning systems don't need to be manually tensioned, saving you time in getting the right tension.

Step 6: Start the vehicle

Once the belt is correctly tensioned as per your vehicle's manual, start your vehicle as you usually do. Let the vehicle run for a few minutes, look, and listen to ensure everything looks aligned and tensioned. This is to ensure that the new drive belt is working as it is supposed to and there aren't any issues.

Changing your drive belt is quite a simple job, and we encourage you all to give it a go. However, if you prefer to get it done by a professional, contact your local repair shops, they will be able to assist you in installing a new drive belt.

Related categories:

Related articles: